Friday, December 20, 2013

Turning a new leaf on the frontier

In late December 1882, miners sang, danced and dreamed of riches

Express Staff Writer

This historical photo shows the Ketchum Post Office (now the Cornerstone Bar and Grill) on Main Street, with Bald Mountain in the background. Photo courtesy of The Community Library, Ketchum

    Big changes were afoot in the Wood River Valley 132 years ago, and the state of Idaho was turning over a new leaf that would exclude high-ranking public officials from certain “barbarous, immoral and unlawful” practices.
    “Farewell, 1882; welcome 1883” reported the Wood River News-Miner on Dec. 30, 1882. “Several midnight pic-nic parties will be out tomorrow night.”
    Those parties probably involved the shooting of guns, and explosions from dynamite sticks, and certainly dancing, said Ketchum Community Library Regional History Librarian Sandra Hofferber.
    “Those pic-nics would have been potlucks,” Hofferber said. “People traveled in sleighs warmed by hot rocks under blankets.”
    Hofferber said there were 16 saloons on Main Street in Ketchum during the mining era, and that the “ladies of the night” were located on River Street, in both Hailey and Ketchum. The Fitzpatrick Hotel on Main Street in Ketchum, where Sotheby’s Realty is now located, would soon become a popular place for celebrations.
    “There was a dance floor on the ground floor where people would dance to ‘Turkey in the Straw’ till all hours. Upstairs there was a more formal ballroom,” Hofferber said.
    The mining towns of Hailey, Bellevue and Ketchum were bustling with commercial activity in 1882, in expectation that the Wood River Valley would soon be connected with the outside world by way of the Oregon Short Line railroad.
    “Track-laying is progressing on the O.S.L. at the rate of nearly a mile per day,” reported the News-Miner. Advertisements for lawyers, accountants and real estate brokers covered an entire column of the front page. The Oregon Land Improvement Co., “owner of the Townsite of Hailey,” boasted in a front-page ad that it had $500,000 in capital. Moses Alexander’s “Grand Opening of Winter Goods” would take place that week in Bellevue, offering an “immense stock” of “ready-made” clothing, as well as “carpets, wall paper, etc. etc.”
    Alexander would eventually parlay his commercial success into political clout in Boise, becoming the first practicing Jew to be elected governor of a state, in 1915. But in 1882, the Idaho Legislature was preparing to turn over a new leaf, which would keep certain men from acquiring high political office. The News-Miner reported in its “Legislative Lip” section on Dec. 30, 1882, that a new oath would be administered to incoming lawmakers, as follows:
    “And I do further swear (or affirm) that I am not a bigamist or polygamist, and that I have not (since the 22nd day of March, A.D. 1882) given aid, countenance or encouragement to persons guilty of the barbarous, immoral and unlawful practice of bigamy, polygamy, celestial marriage or concubinage in any form, under pretence of religious rite or duty: of otherwise in any manner of form whatever.”
    The News-Miner also reported that the Honorable John Hailey, founder of the town of Hailey, had just called the 12th session of the town council to order, and “started them off on the right track towards a perfect organization.”
    “Territorial officials and members of the press have free access inside,” it reported.
    The News-Miner also reported on numerous mines in the area, including the Minnie Moore and Triumph, which would produce valuable silver ore in historic quantities, but also much smaller mines that faded from history, such as the Salamander, Magnolia and Tippacanoe. The Little Smokey region was the hottest prospect in town.
    “A few capitalists have found their way into the camp, and all have secured good mining properties at very reasonable prices,” the News-miner reported.
    A sampling mine on Main Street in Hailey, built by T.R. Jones and improved by G.B. Moulton of Bellevue and J.C. Conklin of Salt Lake, had already sampled 429 tons of ore from valley mines, 25 tons of which had been shipped to Salt Lake, the remainder having gone to Melrose, Calif.
    “The amount now on hand will probably go to Omaha whenever transportation to the [Oregon Short Line R.R.] shall render it pecuniarily advisable to ship east,” reported the News-Miner.
    Until then, residents of the Wood River Valley would travel to the outside world by stage coach, and were kept abreast of developments by the “U.S. Mails Wells Fargo & Co’s Express.” Sometimes the news was about inventions that were catching on elsewhere.
    “Edison’s electric light, according to the New York Sun, is a failure, because it is too dear a light, and cannot be furnished much longer at present prices,” the News-Miner reported.
    Newsmen in those days also relied on first-hand accounts from travelers, about snow reports in the surrounding countryside.
    “A teamster who arrived to-day from Blackfoot was ten days on the road. He reports the road good, and the whole distance covered with about the same amount of snow we have here—2 or 3 inches,” the News-Miner reported.
    Hofferber said the 1882 New Year’s celebration would likely have been marked by a feast of seasonal dishes. Oyster dishes were very popular, judging from advertisements published by the Nevada Chop House in Hailey: “Fresh Eastern Oysters in Any Style.”
    Frontier cooks might have used the recipe for Oyster Patties, from Cathy Luchetti’s “Home on the Range, a Culinary History of the American West,” available at The Community Library in Ketchum.

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